This is the time of year when I need to think about the crops I want to feed my family in the winter. I don’t want to think about winter. I want to make the most of what is left of the summer. I want to frolic in the sun and harvest tomatoes. Turnips are far from my thoughts. But they need to be in the forefront of my mind. As a gardener you can’t really just live in the now – you have to have one gumboot firmly planted in the next season.
So cold weather crops it is. I’ve already gone almost a week beyond when I told myself I’d sow the seeds, but I’ve been putting it off. Not because I don’t want to, but because it is a complete nightmare. The temperatures are nice and warm so the plants germinate quite quickly, which is the good bit. Probably the only good bit of sowing seeds at this time of year.
Once the wee seedlings raise their heads, there is the constant battle with keeping them hydrated. Sowing seeds into small pots on hot days is asking for trouble. They have pretty much dried out the moment you turn your back. You don’t really want to go over kill with the watering to negate this because then you put your seedlings at risk of damping off.
On top of this there is the pests who view the seedlings as a snack on the way to the next big meal. As most of the winter crop turns out to be a family reunion for brassicas, the Cabbage White Butterfly is the biggest threat to my tender seedlings. At this time of year brassicas don’t stand a chance. The cute butterfly shaped leaves can have a multitude of eggs on them within moments of emerging from the soil. If the leaves manage to reach 5 cm in length they can be reduced to a stalk in an afternoon by hungry caterpillars. It is a constant vigil to remove eggs and caterpillars, but it only takes one to slip passed my beady eyes and my winter crop is doomed!
The other thing with the garden at this time of year is I’m way to busy dealing with gluts and revelling in the joys of too many tomatoes to be pfaffing about with small, yet extremely demanding pots. So this year I have tried something new. I created a nursery garden.
When I pulled out my long dead peas a few weeks ago, I wondered what to do with the space and stared at it like a blank canvas. The more I thought about it the more it made sense to raise my new babies there. So I weeded it thoroughly – not that there were many weeds lurking there and then waited to see if any more would germinate after I’d disturbed the soil.
As my soil has swampy tendencies it can get a little hard in summer. Large chunks of hard soil isn’t conducive to seed sowing, so in order to get a fine tilth I used my riddle to sieve the soil. I didn’t need to go down too deep as the seedlings won’t be in there long enough to establish a huge root system.
As seedlings don’t need a rich soil, because they have everything they need in their packed lunch seed cases I didn’t bother to add compost or fertiliser or enrich the soil in anyway. I may give the seedlings a liquid feed when they have several true leaves and are due for transplanting.
One thing they do need though is moisture. So once I’d made the soil all soft and fluffy and easy for the seed to make its way through, I watered the bed thoroughly and deeply. I wanted to make sure the layers below were well hydrated to assist with capillary action to bring the moisture to the root zone where it will be needed.
All that was left to do was to sow the seeds. They didn’t need all that much space as they will be transplanted from the nursery bed into their forever home before this even becomes an issue. Although there still needs to be enough space around them for good air flow to avoid damping off. As the soil isn’t as clean as seed raising mix, this is an extra concern. The same rules apply – plant 3 times as deep as the seed is big, firm down to make good contact with the soil and mist the soil gently so as not to displace the seed.
Watching the white butterfly flit about the garden made me quite nervous. I’d been to a lot of effort to get to this point – I’d done digging! So I nipped down to the local charity shop and picked up an old curtain, and grabbed some of the millions of bucket handles I have hanging around, brushed up my sewing skills and whipped up a DIY cloche that should do the job for the next few weeks until the brassicas make the move into the big garden.
Now I sit back and wait, water gently from time to time to keep the soil moist and if all goes well I should have a few rows of green babies growing nicely before my eyes.
Come again soon – I think I may have too many tomatoes.
Sarah the Gardener : o)